We Have an Altar

To establish the relevance of Torah for today we must consider the sacrificial system: would offering an animal sacrifice today dishonor the sacrifice of Christ in any way? If we are thus serving the earthly tabernacle, are we necessarily forsaking the cross of Christ? (He 13:10)

A key text here describes God’s peculiar interest in His earthly temple at the end of this present age; He has John measure the temple, the altar and those who worship and serve Him there. (Re 11:1)

Though the Jerusalem temple is dormant for now, it will evidently be rebuilt and re-established in all its glory in this present age by the miraculous hand of God (2Th 2:3-4), and the sacrificial offerings will evidently resume. (He 8:4-5) So, even after the atonement of Christ is complete, a functioning Levitical priesthood is evidently not offensive to God. (He 8:4) Why would it be? After all, He designed and ordained it to help us all understand redemption (Jn 1:29): it never was designed to take away or finally atone for any personal sin. (He 10:11)

Both the earthly temple and its sacrificial system remain a precious example and shadow of heavenly things (He 8:5); they are not the heavenly reality (He 10:8), but constantly and perfectly point us toward this reality. (Re 11:19)

So, as the Apostle Paul fully participated in the Levitical sacrificial system with burnt offerings, sin offerings and peace offerings (Nu 6:13-14) without dishonoring Christ (Ac 20:26), we may each do the same if we understand these as merely shadows of heavenly realities (He 10:1), and not the ultimate realities themselves. There can be no more dishonor to Christ in a New Testament believer participating in such divine rituals with proper understanding than it was for an Old Testament believer to do so.

It is no surprise then that we find the early Jewish believers, the Twelve Apostles taught by the Master Himself, along with their faithful disciples, all zealously keeping Torah, including the sacrificial system, long after the sacrifice of Christ. (Ac 20:20) As they ministered powerfully in the Holy Spirit, they saw no inconsistency, knowing animal sacrifices never have taken away sins (He 10:4) but have always perfectly illustrated Christ’s redemptive work (1Co 5:7-8), reflecting the eternal mystery of divine atonement for sin in Christ. (He 10:14)

If it isn’t a problem for Jewish believers to participate in the sacrificial system today, if this type of worship brings no dishonor to the work of Christ and is perfectly consistent with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (Ro 7:22-25), then it is so for the Gentile as well (Ep 2:12-14): we may all continue to enjoy the beauty and mystery of temple worship on Earth so long as Heaven and Earth stand. (Mt 7:18)

So, while John doesn’t officially measure the court of the Gentiles (Re 11:2), God at least mentions it — that there is a special place for all of us at the altar of God, even in these last days, an open invitation to all to come, remember, understand and rejoice in the redemptive work of Christ.

There will come a day when this type of worship is no longer possible, or even helpful; when the earthly temple is no more, only a heavenly tabernacle will remain. (Re 21:22) In that day the Levitical priesthood will finally be obsolete (He 7:12), and thus the related ceremonial laws of Torah abolished (18-19), replaced by the Melchisedek priesthood of Christ (11), Who serves the saints eternally in the Heavenly temple. (He 8:1-2)

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Till All Be Fulfilled

Early in His ministry, Christ commands us to reject the idea that He has come to abolish God’s Law (Mt 7:17a): He didn’t come to destroy Torah, but to fulfill it. (b) This is evidently central to Christ’s teaching, so it’s important to get what He’s saying.

First, since Christ didn’t come to abolish Torah — He didn’t abolish Torah. Yes, it’s stating the obvious, yet most of us still don’t seem to get it, and somehow construe the passage as if He said: “I came not to abolish Torah, but to abolish it.” Perhaps the blinding power of presupposition is demonstrated here as well as it can be; some of us only see what we want to see in scripture, so we miss its message.

The fact is, if we aren’t diligently keeping all the Mosaic law we’re able to keep then we’re making this very basic mistake, which Jesus is telling us right up front, in plain and simple language, not to make.

Of course few argue whether God’s moral law is still valid; we know we aren’t free to steal, kill and destroy as we please. Virtually no one debates this since it’s so obviously wrong; the lie is generally more subtle, that Christ just abolished the civil and ceremonial parts of Torah, that these less important laws were temporary.

Yet, Jesus says that until Heaven and Earth pass away, no part of Torah will be abolished, until all is fulfilled. (18) In other words, not even the smallest nuance of Torah will become obsolete as long as Heaven and Earth remain; until every detail of God’s entire plan for the ages is accomplished. This includes every Old Testament prophecy and every New Testament prophecy.

So, those who arbitrarily classify God’s laws as moral, civil or ceremonial, claiming only moral law is still relevant, however we define it, are headed for trouble. (Ps 119:118) Christ is telling us in no uncertain terms that we’re not to neglect even the least of the commands: we’re all supposed to be trying to keep all of Torah that we’re able to keep; it’s all essentially moral in nature. (Mt 22:40)

Another lie is that since Jesus kept the law perfectly and has become our righteousness, we don’t need to worry about keeping Torah, that somehow His flawless obedience gives us liberty to be disobedient. Jesus rejects this when He tells us anyone willfully breaking any part of Torah as a manner of life will be the least worthy of His kingdom. (19) He’s referring here to our actual lifestyle, not imputed righteousness.

Sure, many texts of scripture are difficult to reconcile with this one, we get it; but we can’t just ignore the problem and pick the side we like. Stewards of the mysteries of God must be faithful (1Co 4:1-2), and not handle the Word of God deceitfully. (2Co 4:2)

It’s our duty to wrestle this out until we find a perspective which does justice to all scripture, including this key text in the introduction to the greatest sermon ever preached. Otherwise, we may find ourselves, unlearned and unstable, wresting Pauline passages out of context unto our own destruction. (2Pe 3:15-16)

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